Bus travel in Tanzania and Rwanda – Mwanza to Kigali via Benaco/Rusumo border.
Wednesday, October 22, 2014
Before taking the bus to Kigali, Rwanda via the Benaco/Rusumo border, we first arrived in Mwanza and stayed for a few days to check out the town and views of Lake Victoria. Mwanza is the second largest city in Tanzania after Dar es Salaam and it is definitely a much nicer city. Situated right on the shores of Lake Victoria the rolling hills are covered in large potato shaped rocks as big as houses, and there are great views of the water everywhere. Many boat cruises and safaris start here, as well as bus travel further west. It would be our last stop in Tanzania before heading to Kigali, Rwanda.
Traveling by bus from Mwanza, Tanzania to Kigali, Rwanda – Via the Rusumo/Benaco Border.
Since we could find very little online documenting exactly how this route is done, and the hotel staff and those we asked at the bus station could not help either, I have decided to write down exactly what our 16 hour bus experience was like.
First off it is possible to travel via public transportation from Mwanza, Tanzania to Kigali, Rwanda in a single day, be it a 16 hour day for us. We bought our tickets the day before our trip from the company Nyehunge to the town of Ngara, though we would be getting off just before Ngara in Benaco. We bought our tickets at the old bus station in downtown Mwanza along Rwagasore St. for $20,000 TSH each. The new bus station called Nyegezi is actually about 10 km south of downtown Mwanza, and that is where the bus will actually leave from. The company Nyehunge and one other company alternate days for the 5am buses which leave from Nyegezi(the new bus station), going to the Rwandan border(Benaco).
We took a taxi from our hotel and arrived at the Nyegezi bus station at 4:30am, though our 5am bus did not actually leave the station until 5:30am. (My best guess for the reason for this delay is that it has to do with ferry schedules) At 5:30am our bus left and headed north taking us right back into downtown Mwanza, where it stopped at the ferry terminal in town at 6 am (actually only a few blocks from our hotel). I suppose you could try and catch the bus at the ferry terminal, but it did not look like the best place to wait for a bus in the dark, although a few locals were waiting. Once at the ferry terminal everyone must get off the bus and make the 50 foot pilgrimage through the ferry terminal gate, and purchase a ferry ticket for $1000 TSH. After the bus has backed on board the ferry, we all walked on. Once on the ferry you can get back on the bus if you wish, or walk around and take in the sunrise views of the city and Lake Victoria. The ferry takes the bus west for about 30 minutes across the water to Busisi.
Once across, our bus drove for 7 hours (6:30am – 1:30pm) arriving near the border at Benaco (also called Nyakasanza on Google Maps). There are signs all along the road with the name Benaco if you look for them. Another way to tell you are there is that the bus will back up into a street to prepare for turning around and backtracking to the cut off which actually goes to Ngara. Once at Benaco/Nyakasanza you can take a small car, stuffed with people or a small minibus which will take you to the border. There were multiple cars and minibuses waiting for passengers when we arrived, we paid $3000 TSH each for seat in a small car, and 8 people crowded in for the remaining 20 minutes (around 15km) to the border. With 5 of us crowded in the backseat of a small toyota, we really got to know some of the locals.
Once at the border we were met by at least a dozen money changers and taxi drivers wanting to take us across the border, but don’t bother as the customs building to check out of Tanzania is in a large blue fenced off complex about 100 yards from where the car stops. After checking out of Tanzania, you will have to walk about 15 minutes downhill to the Rwandan side. You can take a taxi if you wish (maybe if it’s raining) but it is actually a nice walk across the bridge over a waterfall, and we spotted baboons hanging out underneath the bridge.
Ebola checkpoint – Once across the bridge we were met in the middle of the road by a “medical person” wearing a face mask and rubber gloves next to an armed guard, taking travelers temperatures with an infrared device. The Rwandan side of the border was in the middle of a large construction project when we arrived. They are building a large nice border crossing station, but since construction was not complete when we passed through, the customs check point was actually in a small white portable building next to the road (It’s the first building you come across, and wasn’t labeled particularly well)
Entering Rwanda was free for Americans – though we were informed this changed on November 1, 2014 and now Americans have to pay $30 US, like most other nationalities. We filled out a simple visa application at the border, you do not need to apply online or ahead of time. Though we did have to fill out a two question Ebola questionnaire, swearing we had no symptoms, and that we had not been to West Africa recently. After examining the simple check box form, for far longer than you would think necessary, the border agent finally granted us our visas.
Once passed the Rwandan border checkpoint it’s a simple walk for another 300 meters or so to where minibuses are waiting to take passengers to Kigali. We were told they leave every 20 minutes (This layout will probably have changed a bit by the time you’re reading this, as their new border crossing station is built). We hopped on board for $3000 RF each and proceeded to take the slowest bus ride imaginable. The 157 km ride took 5 hours, we think there are different types of buses, slow ones that stop constantly to let people on an off, and express buses which don’t stop as often, we made the mistake of taking a slow bus. Though it was slow, the ride is far more scenic than the bus ride from Tanzania to the border. Rwanda is a beautiful country!
If downtown Kigali is your goal, stay on the bus until it reaches the Nyabugogo bus station. (Nyabugogo is the closest station to downtown, and is about a 5 minute taxi or motorcycle ride away. A mototaxi is by far the cheapest and quickest option.) Our bus stopped in two bus stations in Kigali, the first was at least a dozen kilometers east of downtown, don’t get off there if you don’t have to.
I hope our experience will help other travelers trying to take the same route!